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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The class of 2018 graduated with a record average of $29,200 in loans to help pay for a bachelor's degree, reports USA Today.

Why it matters: It was unusual to graduate with a high amount of debt a few decades ago, but "we have depressed ourselves into a mindset in which $30,000 in debt is acceptable for a degree," Mark Huelsman, an associate director at the left-leaning think tank Demos, told the newspaper.

The big picture: Some schools are trying to address affordability and debt concerns for the cost of an education, but students often use loan money to cover the cost of living expenses.

  • The University of Michigan and the University of Virginia introduced aid programs to help some students pay for classes.
  • New York offers free tuition at some public colleges for residents whose families earn up to $125,000.
  • New Mexico announced a free tuition plan this week for any state resident who attends a public school.

Yes, but: These plans, like many of the free college proposals floated by 2020 Democrats, are geared toward public institutions — meaning that those attending private universities across the country still have to shoulder the burden themselves.

  • Worth noting: The richest and most prestigious private universities often offer extensive financial aid packages of their own. For example, Harvard and Stanford both expect families that make up to $65,000 to contribute nothing — and Stanford offers no tuition charges for families making up to $125,000.

By the numbers:

  • Two out of three of last year's college grads owe more than 2017's.
  • Students who attended college in the Northeast have the highest average debt.
  • Students in Connecticut had the highest average at $38,650, and students in Utah had the lowest at $19,750.
  • "Black students and those from low-income backgrounds were more likely to have debt at graduation," per USA Today.

Go deeper: Debt-free college: Where the 2020 presidential candidates stand

Go deeper

UN poll: Most see climate change as global emergency amid pandemic

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) fronts a Fridays For Future protest at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm in September. Photo: Jonathan Nacksrtrand/AFP via Getty Images

64% of people from around the world say climate change is a global emergency, a United Nations poll published Wednesday finds.

Why it matters: It's biggest global survey on climate change ever conducted, with some 1.2 million participants from 50 countries — including the U.S. where 65% of those surveyed view climate change as an emergency.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.